DynamicFunc is an intrinsic class that lets your program add new executable code to itself while it runs. DynamicFunc takes a string containing TADS program code, using the same syntax you'd use in your project's compiled source code, and compiles it on the fly into a function that you can call. The compiled code is packaged into an object of class DynamicFunc, which you can then invoke as though it were an ordinary function.

DynamicFunc values participate in the system save/restore mechanism, so dynamically compiled functions are saved when the game is saved and restored when it's restored.

Headers and source files

If you use the DynamicFunc class in your program, you must #include <dynfunc.h> in your source files, to define the intrinsic class interface.

You should also add the system library file dynfunc.t to your project's list of source files. This file isn't required, but if it's included, it defines some useful helper objects. In particular, it defines the Compiler object, which provides a convenient interface to several dynamic compiler functions; and the CompilerException class, which is the exception type thrown when a source code compilation error occurs while creating a DynamicFunc instance.

The Compiler helper object

The easiest way to use DynamicFunc is through the helper object Compiler. This object is defined in the system library file dynfunc.t. To include this optional file, add dynfunc.t (from the system library folder) to your project's source file list.

The Compiler object provides a couple of methods that make it easier to work with dynamic code.


Compiler.compile() takes a source code string, and returns a DynamicFunc object with the executable version of the string. The string uses the function syntax describe below. To invoke the compiled code, simply treat the returned object as though it were a function, and use the standard function call syntax with it.

local square = Compiler.compile('function(x) { return x*x; }');
local a = 100;
"<<a>> squared is <<square(a)>>.";

Notice how the naming works. The source code string that you compile doesn't give the function a name at all - it's just "function(x)". The name square isn't actually the name of the function, but simply the name of an ordinary local variable. The value in the local variable is the actual function: it's the DynamicFunc object that Compiler.compile creates when it compiles the source code. Because the compiler lets us use a local variable name with the ordinary function call syntax, we can write square(a) as though square were a function name. This has the effect of getting the value stored in the the variable - in this case, the DynamicFunc object - and invoking it as a function.


Compiler.eval() takes a source code string and not only compiles it, but also executes it, and returns any return value. If you just need to get the value of an expression, this skips the extra step of making a function call to the compiled DynamicFunc.

local x = Compiler.eval('Me.location.name');

If you're going to execute the same code many times, you're better off using compile() and saving the DynamicFunc result. Using eval() repeatedly on the same expression is inefficient because it has to recompile the source code every time, which is a fairly complex process.

Global symbols

The main advantage of using the Compiler object to compile source code strings (instead of calling new DynamicFunc() directly) is that Compiler automatically handles the global symbol table for you. Compiler saves the symbol table during pre-initialization, and then supplies it to the compiler for each invocation.

Note that merely including dynfunc.t in your build will include the Compiler object in your program, whether you end up using it or not. And including Compiler means that you include the global symbol table. This adds to the size of your compiled .t3 file. If you're trying to minimize the .t3 file size, and you don't actually need to keep the global symbol table around, you'll probably want to avoid adding dynfunc.t to your build.

Local variables from enclosing scopes

The compile() and eval() methods of the Compiler object each accept an optional second argument giving a StackFrameDesc object to use for local variable access to another function's locals. See the section on local variable access for more details.

Source code syntax

There are two types of source code you can use to create dynamic code objects.

First, you can specify a simple expression.

local f = Compiler.compile('me.location');

This compiles the code as though it were a function taking no arguments, consisting of a return statement returning the expression value.

Second, you can specify an entire function. The syntax for this is almost the same as for a function in ordinary static source code. The only difference is that a function you define dynamically is unnamed. Instead of writing a function name followed by a parameter list, you simply write the word function where the name would ordinarily go:

local src = 'function(a) { return a*a; }';

Inside the function, you use the same syntax you'd use within a function in a regular source file. You can use if, while, switch, and all the other procedural statements; you can call other functions and methods; you can create new objects; you can print out messages with double-quoted strings or with calls to tadsSay(); you can use return to return a value. You can do pretty much anything you can do in a regular function.

You can alternatively use the method keyword in place of function:

local src = 'method(a) { return self.isIn(a); }';

If you don't supply a stack frame context when you compile the dynamic code, there's no difference at all between using the function and method keywords. The choice of keywords only matters when you compile with a stack frame context that includes a self object. In that case, using function tells the compiler that you want to use the self value from the supplied stack frame; method, in contrast, uses the actual self in effect each time the DynamicFunc is called. The same applies to the other method context variables (definingobj, targetobj, and targetprop).

As a rule of thumb, you'll generally want to use the method syntax any time you're going to plug the DynamicFunc into another object as a new method, using setMethod(). In those cases you'll want the "live" self value that's in effect in the invoked method. Any time you're going to use the DynamicFunc as a function, in contrast, you can use the function keyword.

Note that the source code is given as a string value. This can make it a bit tricky to handle quote marks properly. For example:

local src = 'tadsSay(\'Oh, look, it\\\'s a DynamicFunc!\');';

Pay special attention to that triple backslash within "it's". You need a backslash-quote just to get the apostrophe itself into the src string value. But what are the other two for? Those are there because you need to make sure the compiler actually sees a backslash in front of the apostrophe, since that apostrophe is inside a string in the source code fragment. Here's what that src string actually looks like on the inside, which is what the compiler will see at run-time:

tadsSay('Oh, look, it\'s a DynamicFunc!');

The first two backslashes turn into a literal backslash, and the third escapes the apostrophe.

Note that you can use the triple-quoting syntax to make that sort of thing a lot more readable:

local src = '''tadsSay('Oh, look, it\\'s a DynamicFunc!');''';

<p>You still need the double-backslash to escape the quote inside
the string-within-the-string, but otherwise it's almost straightforward.

<h2><a name="localFrames"></a>
Accessing a caller's local variables</h2>

<p>You can arrange for a dynamic function to have access to local
variables defined in a calling function.  This is analogous to the way
that an anonymous function can access local variables in an enclosing
lexical frame.  Unlike with anonymous functions, though, we have to
set up local variable access explicitly for a dynamic function.  It's
a little extra work, but it gives us lots of extra control, because we
can specify precisely which set of local variables (if any) the
dynamic function can access.

<p>Note that we're not talking about <i>internal</i> locals here.  A
dynamic function is always free to define its <i>own</i> local
variables using the {{local}} statement - there's nothing extra you
have to do for that.  We're talking about accessing <i>another
function's locals</i> from within a dynamic function.

<p>This might seem like a strange thing to want to do, but it can be
extremely useful, especially for writing utility functions.  Let's
look at an example.  Suppose we want to write a message-builder
function that takes a string, and translates embedded expressions into
their corresponding values.  The idea is that we could write something
like this:

print('My location is {me.location.name}.');

The routine to implement this might look something like this:

  // replace each {...} expression with its evaluated result
  tadsSay(rexReplace('<lbrace>(<^rbrace>*)<rbrace>', msg,
          {m: Compiler.eval(rexGroup(1)[3])}));

We use rexReplace() to look for each occurrence of a brace sequence, {...}, and replace it with the result of evaluating the expression within. For each pair of braces, we extract the part between the braces (that's what the rexGroup(1)[3] is for - it pulls out the text that matches the parenthesized part of the regular expression). We then use a callback function to submit that string to the compiler's eval() function, which compiles the expression and runs the resulting code, returning the result of evaluating the expression. So when we submit the example string 'My location is {me.location.name}.', we evaluate the expression me.location.name, which we expect to return a string. rexReplace() then substitutes this result value into the string, so we get a result along the lines of My location is Ice Cave.

So far so good. But what happens if we want to evaluate something like this?

local loc = me.location;
print('My location is {loc.name}.');

In the previous example, we didn't have to worry about local variables, because everything was a global name - we're assuming that me is an object name, and location and name are properties. Now, though, we have this local variable loc to deal with. This is where the local variable access feature comes in.

The way we provide local variable access to a dynamic function is to supply the compiler with a StackFrameDesc object for the function containing the locals we want to be able to refer to. A StackFrameDesc is a system object that contains information on a running function or method in the active call stack. Among other things, a StackFrameDesc has a list of the names and values of the local variables and parameters in an active function. If you supply a StackFrameDesc to the compiler, it will make all of the local variables in the frame available to the dynamic code.

You obtain StackFrameDesc objects using the t3GetStackTrace() function. This function returns information on the active call stack; when you use the T3GetStackDesc flag, it includes a StackFrameDesc for each stack level.

Here's the new version of our example function, using the stack frame object for the function's immediate caller. This lets us call our print() function with a string that refers to our own local variables.

  // Get the local variables for the caller.  The current function is
  // always stack frame level 1; we want the immediate caller, which is
  // level 2.
  local frame = t3GetStackTrace(2, T3GetStackDesc);

  // replace each {...} expression with its evaluated result
  tadsSay(rexReplace('<lbrace>(<^rbrace>*)<rbrace>', msg,
          {m: Compiler.eval(rexGroup(1)[3], frame)}));

Notice how we retrieved the StackFrameDesc object for the caller, then passed it to the Compiler.eval() method. That method takes an optional second argument for the stack frame object. If you omit it, as we did in the original version of the function above, the dynamic function won't have access to any local variables in any caller. When we supply a StackFrameDesc, though, the compiler makes the variables in that frame available to the dynamic function.

When you compile a dynamic function with a StackFrameDesc object, the function has full, live access to the stack frame's local variables. This means that the dynamic function sees the current value of a variable on each access.

Furthermore, the dynamic function can modify a variable, simply by assigning a new value to it. This changes the actual local variable value, so the original function will see the changed value when it resumes execution. For example:

  local x = 1;
  local frame = t3GetStackTrace(1, T3GetStackDesc);
  Compiler.eval('x++', frame);
  "After eval: x = <<x>>\n";

The final value of x will be 2, because the dynamic function evaluation changes the actual, live value of x in the original frame.

Using multiple local frames

The local frame argument also accepts a list of StackFrameDesc objects, in lieu of the single object we've used in the examples so far. This lets the source code refer to locals from any of the listed frames.

When you supply a list of frames, the compiler searches each frame in the list each time it encounters a local variable name in the source code. The compiler searches the list in order, starting with the first element, and uses the first match it encounters. This means that if the same name appears in more than one frame in the list, the compiler will use the earliest occurrence in the list, and ignore the others. In analogy with anonymous functions, you can think of the list as being ordered from the innermost scope to the outermost, since variables in inner scopes hide variables in enclosing scopes.

Local frames and "self"

If you supply one or more stack frames for local variables, the function not only has access to the local variables, but also to the self value in the frame, along with the rest of the method context variables: definingobj, targetobj, and targetprop. If you refer to self or the other context variables within the function, it will refer to the corresponding value from the local frame you supply.

If you supply a list of stack frames, the self value (and other method context values) are always taken from the first frame in the list.

If you supply a frame, but the frame refers to an ordinary function (as opposed to a method), the method context in the new code will also be for an ordinary function, so it won't be able to refer to self and the other context variables.

All of this is designed to work analogously to anonymous functions. You can think of the stack frame list as equivalent to the enclosing lexical scopes of an anonymous function. Just as an anonymous function takes its self and other method context variables from its enclosing scope, a dynamic function takes its method context from the stack frame context you specify.

In cases where you intend to create a dynamic method that you'll later plug in to an object via setMethod(), you usually won't want to copy the method context from the local variable context, since you'll instead want to use the "live" context when the method is called. In these cases, use the method keyword in place of function in the dynamic source code string. This tells the compiler to ignore the method context from the stack frame, while still allowing you to access the frame's local variables.

DynamicFunc Construction

The DynamicFunc constructor takes a source code string, compiles it into bytecode, and returns a DynamicFunc that stores the compiled code. The constructor takes the following arguments:

new DynamicFunc(sourceString, globalTable?, localFrame?, macroTable?)

The sourceString argument is a string containing the TADS source code to compile. It uses the syntax described above.

globalTable is optional. If it's included, it must be a LookupTable object containing the global symbol table to use for compiling the string. Each key in the table is a string containing a symbol name, and the value for a key is the meaning of that value. This is the same format as the table returned by t3GetGlobalSymbols(), and in fact the t3GetGlobalSymbols() table is exactly what you'll want to use in most cases. You're free to provide a custom table instead if you wish to use different symbol mappings, but in most cases you'll want to compile the string with global symbols from the program's own compilation.

localFrame is optional. If it's included, it must be a StackFrameDesc object, or a list of stack frame objects. The function will have access to the local variables in the specified stack frame or frames; it can get their current values as well as assign new values, using the normal syntax for accessing local variables. If you specify a list, the code will have access to any variable in any of the frames. The compiler searches the list in the order given; if the same name appears in more than one frame, the compiler uses the first match and ignores the others.

macroTable is optional. If it's included, it must be a LookupTable containing the global macro table to use for compiling the string. Each key is a macro symbol name (that is, a name defined in the program's source code with the #define directive), and each corresponding value is the definition of the macro. The macro definitions must use the same format as in the table returned by t3GetGlobalSymbols(T3PreprocMacros). As you'd guess, that's where you'd normally get this argument value in the first place, since this allows the string to use the same macros defined in the program's own source code. You can alternatively construct your own custom macro table, as long as you use the same format as the system table.

Passing nil for any of the optional arguments has the same effect as omitting the argument entirely. Since the arguments are positional, you'll need to pass nil if you want to supply one of the later arguments but want to omit an earlier one. For example, if you want to provide a macro table argument but no local frame value, you must specify nil for the local frame, simply to fill out the position in the argument list.

Note that t3GetGlobalSymbols() can only return information on the global symbols or macros during pre-initialization, or when the program is built with full debugging information. That means that if you plan to use the symbol table, you'll have to retrieve it during preinit and save it in an object property, like this:

symTabCache: PreinitObject
   execute() { symtab = t3GetGlobalSymbols(); }
   symtab = nil

That's exactly what the Compiler object defined in dynfunc.t does, so if you include that module in your build you won't have to worry about this. It might seem like TADS is gratuitously making you jump through hoops with this extra step, by the way, but there's a good reason for it. Most programs have no need for the compiler symbol table, and keeping it around takes up extra space in the compiled .t3 file. That's why TADS discards it by default.

If you omit the global symbol table argument, or specify nil, the string is compiled with no global symbols at all. This means that it can only reference its own function arguments and local variables. No global symbols, not even property names, will be available.

Calling the compiled function

Once you've successfully created a DynamicFunc, you can call it using the same syntax you'd use for an ordinary function.

local src = 'function(x) { return x*3; }';
local f = new DynamicFunc(src);
local result = f(7);

Compiler error handling

When you create a DynamicFunc with new, the system compiles the string into "bytecode," which is the internal representation TADS uses for executable code. The compilation process parses the source code, checks that the syntax is correct, looks up any symbol names (objects, properties, other functions, etc.), and makes a number of other checks for correctness. The process is largely the same as when you use the regular compiler to build your project, and it can catch the same types of errors.

If an error occurs, the new DynamicFunc() call will throw an exception of type CompilerException. You can use the displayException() method of the exception object to display the compiler error messages. It's possible for multiple errors to occur in a single call to new DynamicFunc(), since the compiler tries to carry on as best it can after an error. (It does this to be helpful, by the way, not because it enjoys nitpicking. The idea is to give you as many details as possible about what needs to be fixed with a single run of the compiler, rather than making you go back and forth between editing and compiling for each individual problem.) If there multiple errors, they'll be separated by newline "\n" characters in the message string stored in the exception object.



Returns a string containing the source code originally used to create the object via the new DynamicFunc() constructor.


Dynamic code creation is common in modern interpreted languages, especially scripting languages like Javascript and PHP. People have found all sorts of uses for it, but the best use is probably for creating miniature extension languages as parts of code libraries. Dynamic compilation can be used as a sort of super macro feature, since it lets you bring to bear the full string-processing and procedural power of the main language.

In a TADS context, dynamic code is particularly interesting for string and message processing. Text generation is obviously a huge part of IF programming, and one of the key tasks for libraries and extensions is to provide tools and automation for text creation. Dynamic code creates many possibilities for these tools, by making it possible to embed quasi source code text inside strings, which are then processed by library routines into actual source code, which is then compiled and executed on the fly.

DynamicFunc vs. anonymous functions

Dynamic functions and anonymous functions might seem a lot alike, but there are some significant differences. The big one is that anonymous functions can only be created from static source code that's part of your project's source files, whereas DynamicFunc objects are created dynamically from strings at run-time. This makes anonymous functions a bit more efficient, since they're compiled in advance; a DynamicFunc must be compiled while the program runs, which adds some run-time work and resource consumption. On the other hand, you can do things with DynamicFunc that you simply can't do with anonymous functions, by making it possible to create code on the fly while the program runs.

In general, if you can write out the function you want to perform in advance, as part of your source code, a regular or anonymous function is the way to go. Dynamic functions are best for situations where the source code must be assembled dynamically - based on input from the user, for example, or based on data read from a file.

Because an anonymous function is statically compiled, it's syntactically part of the surrounding code. This allows an anonymous function to access local variables in the enclosing scope. For example:

local lst = ['one', 'two', 'three', 'four', 'five', 'six', 'seven', 'eight'];
local cnt = 0;
lst.forEach(function(val) { if (val.length() > 3) ++cnt; });

This function refers to the local variable cnt, which isn't defined as part of the anonymous function, but rather in the enclosing scope.

A DynamicFunc, in contrast, doesn't automatically have access to its enclosing scope. In fact, a DynamicFunc doesn't even really have an enclosing lexical scope: a lexical scope is essentially the text surrounding the function, but a DynamicFunc's source is a run-time string, which isn't part of the source code at all.

However, a DynamicFunc has something analogous to an enclosing scope: it has a dynamic call stack. The call stack is the chain of callers that were actually invoked at run-time to reach the function that's creating the DynamicFunc. Each caller in that chain has local variables of its own. You can arrange it so that the DynamicFunc has access to the local variables in one or more of these callers.

This access to caller locals isn't automatic. If you don't make explicit arrangements, a DynamicFunc can't access any locals in its callers. That means that something like this won't work:

local cnt = 0;
local f = new DynamicFunc('function(val) { if (val > 3) ++cnt; }'); // WON'T WORK!

To make that work, you'd have to explicitly grant the DynamicFunc access to the current local frame. You do this by passing in the StackFrameDesc object for the current frame, like so:

local cnt = 0;
local frame = t3GetStackTrace(1, T3GetStackDesc).frameDesc_;
local f = new DynamicFunc('function(val) { if (val > 3) ++cnt; }', nil, frame);

For more details, see the section on accessing a caller's locals above.


The debugger can't stop in dynamic code, so you can't set breakpoints or single-step through a DynamicFunc's contents.

As described above, dynamic code can't automatically refer to variables defined in the scope that calls new DynamicFunc(). You can, however, explicitly give the code access to a frame's locals by supplying a StackFrameDesc object when compiling the dynamic code.

You can't define a multimethod from dynamic code. This is due in part to the same reasons that you can't add to the global symbol table, but there's the additional complication that multimethods use a separate set of run-time tables built by the system library during preinit. It would be possible in principle to manipulate these tables to add new multimethods on the fly, but there's not currently any API support for that, so we don't recommend it.

Dynamic code can't define new named functions, objects, or properties. The dynamic compiler treats the global symbol table that you pass in as read-only, so the syntax for defining named items is disabled.

Note that even though you can't create a named function or object using the normal source code syntax, you can get the same result by manipulating the LookupTable containing the symbols. To define a new function, first use the unnamed function syntax to create a new DynamicFunc with the function body, then simply add the DynamicFunc to the symbol table under the function name of your choosing. Once you've added the function to the symbol table, you can call it from other dynamic code strings as though it were part of the original source code.

The Compiler helper object even provides a method that does all of this for you:

// define a new function, square(x)
Compiler.defineFunc('square', 'function(x) { return x*x; }');

// we can now call it from subsequent code
local x = Compiler.eval('square(10)');

Note that this only updates the Compiler object's copy of the symbol table. It doesn't change the original symbol table used by the running program. This means you're free to redefine the name of an existing function, but doing so will only affect future compilations - it won't affect any code previously compiled, including the statically compiled code of the main program.